When songwriter/producer Phil O’Donnell sent country artist J.D. Shelburne the demo for the song “Bottoms Up Sundown,” the towering Kentucky native had two initial thoughts.
This song was his story.
And this song had way too many words packed into it.
“Oh, it took me forever to learn this song,” laughs Shelburne, who is premiering the small-town country anthem on American Songwriter Monday (November 16.) “The demo was a little bit slower, but we decided to amp it up in the studio and I would literally have to catch my breath. We recorded the choruses first and verses second because I’d be out of breath singing the whole song.”
And indeed, while this new single packs exactly 266 words into a span of a little more than three minutes, there is no doubt that every word hits an emotional nerve with Shelburne, who actually grew up living the life he describes in “Bottoms Up Sundown,” which is set to make the track list on his forthcoming album Straight from Kentucky come 2021.
“I knew exactly what they meant when the song says, ‘bust a ten-pound bag on the black top,’” Shelburne laughs of the song written by O’Donnell and fellow songwriter Brandon Kinney. “When Friday was done, we would go to a friend’s farm and have a party. The first thing we would do is buy 14 or 15 bags of ice to ice down the cooler. Then you would drive through 3 or 4 gates to a place way back in the fields where no one else could hear you. It’s just the way it was. ‘Bottoms Up Sundown’ is an anthem for people like me.”
Growing up on a small-town tobacco farm in Taylorsville, Kentucky, Shelburne knew darn well how good it felt to let loose at the end of the week. And it’s this genuine feeling that alludes from every note Shelburne sings on this ode to the simple life.
“There is a line in the song that says ‘lock ‘em in when we cross that cattle guard into a barb wire mile wide open bar,’ and it’s like I am right there all over again,” remarks Shelburne, who first picked up a guitar at the age of 19. “We would go through those cattle guards to get back to where we camped. That was my farm to a T.”
And that wasn’t all.
“The part in the song where it says, ‘around ten is about when we break a six-string out,’ takes me right back to those days when we would be sitting around a bonfire,” remembers Shelburne, who has been forced to sit back and watch more than 70 of his scheduled shows cancelled in this year alone due to the ongoing pandemic. “If you had a guitar, you were the life of the party. There is nothing better than sitting around a bonfire singing your favorite songs out in a field somewhere. There just isn’t.”
Indeed, the authenticity of the song and the authenticity of its singer serves as a scrumptious combination on “Bottoms Up Sundown,” which had quickly become a fan favorite in Shelburne’s live shows pre-COVID.
Because, let’s be honest, could Aldean or Urban sing about ‘diesel stacks of dry pine’ or ‘east wing hammers’ and make us believe them?
“If you don’t believe in the song or you haven’t lived the lyric, you might as well move on to the next one,” says Shelburne, who is currently basking in the sweetness of life with wife Amy Jo and their brand-new baby boy Jax. “There is nothing worse than singing a song you didn’t really live.”